If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could much more effectively assist warfighters across a greater range of missions. DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capabilities.
This video shows a demonstration of the “Cheetah” robot galloping at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour (mph), setting a new land speed record for legged robots. The previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989.
The ultimate goal to run as fast — or faster — than an actual cheetah (70 mph).
Business Week coverage – Raibert thinks the cat-bot could clock speeds of nearly 40 mph once key design and technical features are further refined. “We’ve solved a lot of the engineering problems,” he says. Raibert declined to say when such a technology would be ready for the battlefield, but he says this sort of machine could someday serve as a “scout robot” and “maybe deliver some payload.” This kind of machine could also be useful in emergency rescue and civilian disaster.
In the latest speed test, the Cheetah was tethered to a hydraulic pump for power and relied on a boom-like device to help maintain balance. “It’s a lot like training wheels,” says Raibert. Those come off later this year when Boston Dynamics will start testing a free-running robot that will have an internal gas-powered engine and software capable of handling 3D movements. The Boston Dynamics research team is working with Dr. Alan Wilson, an expert on the dynamics of fast-running animals at London’s Royal Veterinary College.
While the Cheetah won’t be combat-ready for some time, its technology may be more immediately useful in improving other Boston Dynamics bots
The robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature. The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does.
The current version of the Cheetah robot runs on a laboratory treadmill where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump, and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill. Testing of a free-running prototype is planned for later this year.
While the M3 program conducts basic research and is not focused on specific military missions, the technology it aims to develop could have a wide range of potential military applications.